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Life Saver

Life Saver

Man Ray (in 1944)

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Title Life Saver
Material and technique Vintage gelatin silver print on fibre-based paper, typewriter ink on paper, on cardboard
Object type
Photograph > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height 12 cm
Width 8 cm
Artists Artist: Man Ray
Accession number 3754 (MK)
Credits Purchased with the support of FriendsLottery, 2014
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 2014
Creation date in 1944
Entitled parties © Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2018
Provenance Private collection, Paris; Galerie Johannes Faber, Vienna
Exhibitions New York 2009-2010; Rotterdam 2014b
Internal exhibitions Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture (2014)
Surrealism and Beyond (2016)
External exhibitions Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Research Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Literature Schwarz 1977, pp. 155, 215-16, fig. 257; Man Ray/Martin 1983, p. 86
Gelatine silver print > Bromide print > Photographic printing technique > Mechanical > Planographic printing > Printing technique > Technique > Material and technique

Entry catalogue A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

Man Ray, 'Contraption', 1944, assemblage, 53.5 x 20 x 7 cm. Private collection

Life Saver (1944) is an assemblage consisting of a piece of cork found on a beach to which Man Ray added a metal disc and a wooden marble. In the publication Objets de mon affection (1983), with illustrations and descriptions of Man Ray’s favourite objects, the caption under the illustration reads: ‘Life Saver, like a picture with a handle, must be met halfway with equal buoyancy and outstretched hand; it has no means of self-propulsion’.[1] Despite this, the work is reminiscent of a guillotine poised to drop – an association entirely at odds with the purpose of a life saver.

Man Ray left France in 1940 and settled in Los Angeles. In the same year he met Juliet Browner, whom he married in 1946. A number of artworks from this period refer to these events. The idea of a work with a ‘handle’ as a play on words is key. In 1943 Man Ray painted an abstract work, Picture with Handles. This canvas is landscape format; it looks like a serving tray and has a handle on each side. Man Ray described it thus: ‘Picture with a handle – just as one might say: a picture with a story, or a picture with a moral, or simply a picture with its frame.’[2] The following year the artist made an assemblage, Contraption, consisting of a mousetrap mounted on a rectangular plank with a robust handle at each end. The title may refer to more than the shaky structure. The second syllable of the title – trap could be a hidden allusion to love.[3] Anyone who falls into love’s trap can be saved thanks to the handles. Despite such tensions, the marriage to Browner lasted until Man Ray’s death. In the last years of her life Browner and her brother dedicated themselves to the Man Ray Trust. She donated the contents of his studio to the Centre Pompidou in Paris.[4]



[1] Man Ray/Martin 1983, p. 86.

[2] Schwarz 1980, p. 238 and Schwarz 1977, p. 215.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Peter Flint, ‘Obituaries; Juliet Man Ray, 79, The Artist’s Model And Muse, Is Dead’, The New York Times, 21 January 1991. See also http://www.manraytrust.com.

Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
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